You walk into a new lecture class for the semester. You take out your laptop, open up a brand new Google Doc and you get ready to take notes. Then the professor walks in and tells everyone to put their devices away – in this class all notes have to be handwritten. Yes, it sucks, and we’ve all been there. But are there any actual benefits to handwriting?

In honor of National Handwriting Day we decided to look at two of the most common areas in which college students might be debating whether to use paper or electronics: note-taking and to-do lists, and see whether there is any merit in keeping it “old school” with pen and paper.


Let’s talk about notes first. There are a plethora of studies on the internet about how handwritten (or longhand) notes help students retain more information. In fact, a study of 300 students at Princeton and UCLA suggested that the group of students who took longhand notes, as opposed to those who took notes on their laptops, were better able to answer questions about the lecture. Why, you ask?

The researchers claim that the students who worked on paper scored higher because they were forced to rephrase the information they heard, which required them to undergo a preliminary process of summarizing and comprehension of the material. This put them a step ahead of those who worked on their laptops, as most of them wrote a literal transcript of the lecture.

“But typing is just so much faster.”

Yes, yes, we know – and often students are worried that by handwriting their notes in class, they won’t be able to get down all the information they need (particularly if the professor goes very fast) or that their notes won’t be legible (and then you will have to ask that guy sitting next to you in your lecture for his notes and it will be all awkward because he will think you’re trying to ask him out and it won’t be cute like the movies). Well instead, maybe try to take handwritten notes of your typed notes when you are reviewing, which could illustrate the power and effectiveness of engaging with the material in more than one way.

To-do lists

And what about the beloved to-do list? As college students, we are all too familiar with the seemingly never-ending to-do list. But writing your tasks down can actually make it easier on your memory – rather than thinking about remembering to do something – you can just focus on the task at hand.

It has been found that the act of planning and writing things down makes you turn your thoughts into much more achievable tasks and once you write them down, you’re that much more likely to do them. In fact, numerous studies that show that people who write down their goals and to-dos are almost a third more likely to actually do them than people who do not.

Additionally, writing your to-do lists can allow you to better fill gaps in your time. Sometimes, when you have just finished a task, you might think “Ok, I’m done for now,” and you proceed to log onto Netflix because you don’t know what the next thing you should do is. But – if you have a running list going, you can always reference it and look at what still needs to be done.

But so what? We often find ourselves in situations where it’s just not convenient to carry around another notebook. Yet, indisputably, the very act of writing things down with our hands has been shown to increase retention and comprehension because when we hand write, we engage so many other parts of our brain than when we simply press a button on a keyboard. Additionally, because handwriting for most people is inherently slower, it can be especially useful when you are goal setting, brainstorming, or engaged in the retrieval phase of studying, i.e. when you are trying to remember everything that was said in class when studying for an upcoming exam. All these tasks require more time and greater deliberation.

However, we can’t deny the fact that typed lists and notes can give you more flexibility in terms of deleting, organizing, and searching for exactly what you need. On the other hand, handwriting can give you more flexibility when you create spreads such as mind maps.

Clearly, there is no perfect answer. Maybe the solution lies with new technology that focuses on touch screens and styluses? The tradition of handwriting is not dead just yet.

So let us know – are you a loyal supporter of the fail-safe pen and paper or an advocate for the endless possibilities of e-ink? If you’re looking to venture into the realm of handwriting, check out the RIT bookstore or Shop One for some beautiful notebooks!


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